Freedom (propaganda)

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Libertarians prattle a great deal about freedom, but seldom define it well. Usually, they speak of positive and negative freedom and economic freedom. Positive and negative freedom is a false dichotomy based on a severe misframing. Economic freedom is a code phrase for the dominance of property over popular sovereignty (democracy.)

Freedom is the practical ability to stop people from interfering with your activities. You notice that this is not a negative, passive nor costless definition, but positive, active and costly. Freedoms can conflict because they are rooted in your ability to take coercive action to stop people from interfering with your activities. We create government to regulate the coercion, so that there is less conflict. Practical ability means that it is not too expensive to stop unwanted interference.

Every freedom creates a corresponding unfreedom for others. For example, if I am free to make something my property, others are not free to make it their property afterwards. We value various freedoms and unfreedoms differently because they have different opportunity costs and enforcement costs, and consider the tradeoffs.

Given this understanding of freedom, most libertarian analyses look very confused, if not stupid.

Links

Coercion vs. Freedom: BHL vs. BRG [More...]
John Holbo explains Bertram, Robins and Gourvitch’s post criticizing the Bleeding Heart Libertarians views on liberty and voluntary slavery. He then explains how Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok make the same errors. Follow the link to the original post.
What Color Tie Do You Vote For? [More...]
The relationship between "freedom" and "economic freedom" is not as simple as Milton Friedman would have it.


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Quotations

Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.
Isaiah Berlin, "Four Essays on Liberty" p.xlv.
So much for the idea that so-called libertarians are uncompromising champions of freedom. In truth, they're tireless defenders of the idea that the people with the most wealth and power in our society deserve to keep it. This, of course, is hardly the subversive, counter-cultural brew that libertarians seem to think they're peddling--this is exactly what bought-off establishment politicians in Washington already think.
Tyler Zimmer, "Gary Johnson and the libertarian swindle"
More deeply though there's something about how the rhetoric of 'freedom' and 'liberty' appeals to the 'neo-Confederate' mindset which is paradoxical and considerably more toxic and corrosive than the ways many of us think about those terms. Freedom can also mean freedom from any check on my actions. My freedom. My group's freedom. A warlord who totally dominates his followers has a sort of perfect liberty and freedom. Just not quite the sort we think of in a civic context. It's the same authoritarian mindset of Stormfront and the militia crazies, just through this looking glass where it twists into 'freedom' and 'liberty'.
Josh Marshall, "Keeping It Real on 'neo-Confederate Libertarians'"
Now that we have dug beneath the rhetoric we know that Friedman is really saying that “You are against freedom if you disagree with my theory of government and markets.” Such a claim certainly sounds suspicious for someone who is supposedly defending a diversity of values in the market place. Surely freedom should involve precisely the question of debating what the boundaries between government and markets should be. And surely that very boundary between government and market should be subject to debate and discussion?
Howard I. Schwartz, "What Color Tie Do You Vote For?"
We would say in contrast to Friedman that “Underlying most arguments for a free market is a mistaken assumption that free markets and freedom are one and the same thing.” They are not. The degree of the market’s freedom is always a question within a free society. But there are many gradations of free markets and there can be multiple ways to draw the line between government and the market and all of them can comfortably sit under the rubric of a free society.
Howard I. Schwartz, "What Color Tie Do You Vote For?"